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New Release – We Are Not This Charity Anthology

October 30, 2016 Leave a comment

51rxx8jz1xlI’m happy to announce that my story “Trapped” is included in the newest release from Falstaff Books, “We Are Not This: Carolina Writers for Equality Charity Anthology.” Proceeds for this anthology go to Time Out Youth, Equality NC, and Queen City Theater Company.

This book is important to me and not only because my story is in it. Sit back and I’ll tell you a little story.

Once upon a late March afternoon in 2016, the North Carolina legislature decided that Charlotte’s inclusive stance regarding trans people using bathrooms consistent with their gender expression was a step too far in the direction of progress and equality. In reaction, a bill was introduced to the house in a special session and pushed through in a shocking burst of activity otherwise unknown in government process. Before the sun set, Governor Pat McCrory signed the bill into law.

But why is everyone so up in arms about HB2? Isn’t it meant to protect? (Read it here)

It depends on who you ask. Advocates for the bill insist it is designed to protect “women and children” against specifically male sexual predators masquerading as women to invade the privacy of public bathrooms and victimize them in that space.

But, it really doesn’t, and the bill does more than that.

The bill is a reaction to the idea of inclusion and equality recognizing trans people as people of their expressed gender identity instead of biological sex. It codifies discrimination and inequality in a way that is harmful to our fellow human beings and citizens. But despite the focus of the media and the conversation about this bill, it doesn’t ONLY target the LGBTQ community. It touches EVERYONE by preventing cities and counties from setting a minimum wage and by establishing definitions of protected classes and changes the way charges of discrimination can be adjudicated when the discrimination claim is based on race, religion, color, national origin, biological sex or disability. Originally, the bill removed the ability for claimants to pursue the charges in state court, but was amended. Charges of discrimination can now be pursued in state courts, but changed the statute of limitations from 3 years to 1 year (source).

But why is this important? Is it really about the bathrooms?

No – this law makes it possible for someone to be fired simply for being gay or transgender and limits the recourse against discriminatory behaviors. (source)

Take that in. North Carolina businesses can legally fire someone for sexual orientation or gender identity.

Legal codification of discrimination is something I cannot ignore. I have spoken out about it, I have communicated with my representatives and senators, I have signed petitions and made donations. Contributing to this anthology is another way I can do something to help those who are affected by North Carolina’s reprehensible HB2 “Bathroom Bill.”

I commend John Hartness at Falstaff Books for driving the development of this anthology and for his outspoken stance against this bill. I’m honored to be included with so many awesome authors to show that We Are Not This, and that we will not tolerate hate.

Get your copy digitally now. Print editions coming soon.

Something Like a Review – Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

We all have a special place in our hearts for the loud, brash personalities in our world. How else do you explain the popularity of the “carny-handed mango man,”or Nigel Farage?  Or the she-beast, Ann Coulter?

Granted, that place we hold for the blustery and abrasive might be a gator-filled swamp or an oubliette, but hey, those are places.

And sometimes, we seek out these personalities because we sense the benevolence behind the shock-and-awe tactics that make us laugh. For me, this is the lure of Chuck Wendig.

Everyone has their own opinion, of course, but I find Wendig’s particular brand of hyperbolic (and sometimes juvenile) humor is exactly the sugar to help me swallow writer life lessons and general insight buried within. I’ve drunk deep of his audacious wisdom from his daily blog posts at terribleminds.com, his Kick-Ass Writer and all his other writing books. But, until now, all I’d read was his writing advice.

Intrigued by the hype around his new cyber-thriller, Zer0es, I picked it up. The premise of technology becoming a horror thrilled me, and I had to see what he could do.

Overall, this is a great book, though I say that with a caveat.

When I was still in the first third of the book, my writing group was discussing what we were reading. I mentioned this one, and there was a lot of curiosity about it given Wendig’s blustery portrayal of himself on his blog. My only fair answer at the time was that it was … odd, but that I wanted to keep reading. The beginning, in my opinion, is somewhat jarring and disjointed. I felt thrust around, not really given a chance to orient myself with the characters, and how they were connected. In my opinion, there was something missing, though I still can’t identify what. As the book progresses past that point, however, and the characters converge, that jangling sense of disharmony dissipates and the story comes together in a beautiful, terrifying way and barrels through to its chilling end.

Wendig’s panoply of characters rings true to their stories, and histories, even if they become overwhelming and obnoxious at times. This is one of those casts of characters that is both unforgettable, and sometimes difficult to spend to spend time with. Wendig works a bit of magic, though, making you care about the most abrasive personalities even though you’d gladly reach into the story and slap them silly (I’m lookin’ at you, Rachael).

The punchy style and staccato rythym has been a matter of contention in some of his books. At times, I felt like I needed a break to catch my breath, but that sensation served the story. Wendig used the style to great effect and I’d argue that it was necessary to create the pace and physical effect on the reader that this novel achieves.

Zer0es is a chilling book because of the sheer plausibility of the technological horrors Wendig concocts.  We could be living with a similar, undetected tumor of dystopic existence growing in our midst. Our own Typhon might be watching now…

Definitely worth the read, I’d give Zer0es my standard “Lord of the Rings disclaimer” – get through the beginning, and you’ll be sucked in. Now, it’s all over until the release of the second book in the series, Invasive, in August.

 

Medium: Kindle version from Amazon.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read: When I feel the need to be reminded of technology’s dark side, yes.

Dead-tree worthy?: Maybe. I think I’ll need to read through it again to figure that out. There is a certain amount of irony of only owning a digital copy, though.

Something Like a Review – Year One: A Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter Collection by John G. Hartness

Disclosure: I know the author personally. I purchased this book with my own Audible credit because I wanted to read it. This post is simply a reflection of my desire to share a piece of fiction I enjoyed from an author I choose to support.

One of the benefits of connecting with local writers is getting an opportunity to meet interesting people and discover stories you might not have found otherwise. Buying books becomes an act of shopping small, and when you find something you love, sharing that love promotes and supports people you know and care about.

I discovered John’s work after encountering him at ConCarolinas. And, yes, “encounter” is the correct verb. Though I was slow on the uptake, I did become hooked on Bubba and was curious about his other writing. His pitch for Quincy Harker snared me: “Mina Murray and Jonathan Harker had a son. They named him Quincy. His guardian angel calls him Q. Dracula calls him nephew.” Given my love for things horror, and his sense of humor, I was sold.

If I could imagine a figure from classic horror coming to live in Charlotte, North Carolina, Quincy and Uncle Luke (aka – Dracula, to the rest of us) would be the perfect fit. There’s plenty of culture to suit an old vamp like Luke, and enough to keep Quincy and Charlotte-Mecklenberg police officer Rebecca Flynn busy for a long time. And that’s before we through Federal Agent John Smith into the mix.

I already knew Hartness is adept at blending horror and humor, but in the Quincy Harker novellas, he skillfully tilts the scale away from the humor while still retaining snark to keep you snorting through Quincy’s one-liners. This series is darker, and deeper than the Bubba stories, but showcases John’s potential for range. His writing style is cinematic, and breathes life into the mundane that has me looking over my shoulder whenever I go through parts of Charlotte that show up in the novellas. This is one of those series that you can just imagine Netflix or Amazon Studios picking this up and making a series out of it. So, how ’bout it, guys? #HarkerTV Hells, yeah.

In the end, this is a series that should not be missed. The voice talent on the audiobook does a great job with all the characters, but especially Quincy. He’s the voice I hear in my head when I imagine this badass Demon Hunter. You can buy the individual novellas, but really, you’re going to want them all, so go for the compendium. It’s worth every cent.

 

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Yes, especially as the other novellas/collections are released.

Dead-tree worthy?: Probably, but I liked the audiobook so much that I probably will stick with that.

Something Like a Review – Z-Burbia by Jake Bible

The longer this year’s political campaign runs, the more I’m hoping for the beginning of the zombie apocalypse.

Then again, looking at some of the candidates, I’m not sure it hasn’t already happened. But this isn’t Something Like a Review about something as undead as the American political process. Instead, it’s about a charming gem of a book I discovered somewhat by accident. Let’s start over, shall we?

I am a little late to the zombie party. They seem to be everywhere. While I was in school, my stress dreams were always about the zombie apocalypse. Oddly, not in being afraid of it, but being in the midst of it and the weariness of having to endure it AGAIN. (Weird, right?) Then, when I could claim time as my own, I got into the cultural phenomenon known as The Walking Dead. Heavily. As in binged-five-seasons-in-4-days heavily. Then I remembered that I heard about (and wish-listed) a series at The World Horror Convention in 2015 by Jake Bible, and I decided to seek it out. I may be late, but the zombie party is still raging, and I’m glad that I found Z-Burbia.

With all the little suburban developments popping up like mushrooms, can you really imagine life post-zombie without imagining those clusters of cookie-cutter houses? Or of what survival will look like among the disparate families that inhabit them? Everyone knows that the HOA is the biggest pain point of living in these little suburbs…now just imagine if it survived the apocalypse too.

Gives you chills, doesn’t it?

Jake Bible does a fantastic job of creating a post-apocalyptic world rife with the challenges you expect – hungry zombies, resource shortages, and human threats – and sets it in the Blue Ridge mountains just outside Asheville, NC. And if zombies and cannibals weren’t enough to worry about it, he threads in the complications and frustrations of dealing with the HOA president and her cadre. Jason “Jace” Stanford (a.k.a. “Long Pork”) is one of the most delightfully sarcastic and funny characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Bible weaves Jace’s unique perspective through the horrors and gore of living through the zombie apocalypse in a way that kind of makes you want to hang out with him. If it weren’t for all the zombies and cannibals, that is.

This book was a lot of fun. I listened to it as an audiobook, which I think is the perfect way of enjoying it. Jace’s conversational asides draw you in, and the voice talent does a great job of presenting his sense of humor in a way that literally makes you laugh out loud. I very much look forward to reading/listening to the next books in this series.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com, or order an autographed copy from Malaprops (Indie) Bookstore in Asheville, NC

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Very possibly, but there are 6 novels in this series, so not any time soon. 🙂 New Jace is too enticing to revisit past Jace.

Dead-tree worthy?: Possibly, but I think I will probably stick with the audiobook. The conversational tone of this book lends itself so well to the medium, and the voice talent was great. The only drawback is that I giggled at otherwise inappropriate times, like walking down the aisle in the grocery store.

Something Like a Review – “Fun Home” by Allison Bechdel

September 20, 2015 Leave a comment

This is going to be an unusual SLaR, mostly because I’m going to go beyond just reviewing the text, mix in a little current events, and then thrust my thoughts upon you and anyone else willing to listen. (Aren’t you excited?) I pay attention to book news, primarily because it’s interesting to me, but also because I want to know what’s going on in the shark tank that my toes are dangling in. When a book gets praised or maligned, I want to know why. I want to know what works, what doesn’t, and what stirs the pot in positive and negative ways. It’s one of the reasons my “free” time has a hole in it. Jon Stewart presented challenging books and content regularly and I miss his interviews and exposure to stories I might not have read otherwise. In his absence, I’ve been haunting other outlets, and that’s where this (excruciatingly) long post comes from.

Between living in North Carolina Piedmont area and living with a Duke basketball fan, Duke University frequently ends up on my radar even though I have no real vested interest in it. Most of the time, it’s a story that holds so little of my interest that I don’t even recall it. Then there are the occasional stories of infamy. And then there was this one.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

                      Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

“Freshmen skipping ‘Fun Home’ for moral reasons.”

Knowing that Duke is a conservative university, my curiosity was piqued. Had some radical liberal influence managed to throw something truly controversial into the mix? After digging around a little, I found that this graphic novel was on the summer reading list and getting all kinds of panties in a knot because of, well, sexual content.

I’m not a stranger to boundary-pushing college assignments. I went to Sarah Lawrence where I was exposed to things that blew my provincial little mind wide open. Not only were they “suggested,” assigned, some were even revelations of self-directed exploration. One of the books that ended up on one class reading list was a set of graphic novels that made me cringe – Maus I and II – though not for sexually explicit content.

Seeing the article and the statements of the students cited by the press, I decided that “Fun Home” was something I simply had to read to see what all the fuss was about.

When I got it, I flipped through the book just to see what jumped out at me. Nothing, really, except for the vague recollection that I’d seen it before. Or parts of it, at least. I looked at the publication date and realized that at some point between its 2006 copyright date and the time the book was in my hand, I’d come across some of the images and text online. I had not, however, read the whole thing or seen anything in it that even blipped the sexual radar, so I dove in.

The story chronicles Bechdel’s relationship with her father and the parallel story of navigating her sexual identity. Complicating the matter, of course, is her parents’ relationship with each other, her resulting home environment, and her father’s struggles with his sexual identity and expression. Bechdel walks us through her own coping mechanisms as a child and allows us to find the humor and the compassion for those that fail, as well as the recognition that we’ve all struggled to cope with things in ways that were not healthy, only to make the problem worse. Yet there’s still an element of hope in her narrative – we still manage to persevere, just as she does.

Overall, this is a story of struggles between individuals and trying to simultaneously live an authentic life. It is NOT a story about promiscuity, hedonism, or lascivious sexuality. Homosexuality is a theme that threads throughout the story, yes, but the focus is not on the sex, or sexuality, but on the development of self-identity, the journey of self-discovery and all the shit that happens while you’re just trying to live your life. Homosexuality is an aspect of who Allison Bechdel is and is an inextricable part of this story, however this story could be written about someone else struggling with a burgeoning religious identity and the struggles would be the same. Replace her developing sense of homosexuality under the shadow of a father who may or may not be as well with the developing call to, say, Catholicism under an overtly agnostic or atheistic household. Instead of questionable sexuality, give the father quirks that may hint at a not fully repressed religious bent. Whisk vigorously, and voila! You’d have a similar story. This story is not condoning sexuality in any regard, but is examining the journey of figuring out who we are and what our place is in this mad world. It’s not about sex, it’s about love in the broad sense of the word. Love and acceptance, particularly of self, and of those with whom we have the most complicated relationships. Judgment, stigma, and social consequence gets introduced with sex because sex involves “naughty” fun bits, exploration, empowerment, and orgasms. And other fun things.

However, to be fair, some people find affectionate, consenting interactions between adults (even as teenaged proto-adults) as infinitely more offensive that religions. Because nudity. God forbid we see the balls and boobies.

Religion (and snark) aside, let’s keep this in perspective. We all experience sexual awakening. Every one of us. “Fun Home” looks at how one person on this big blue marble in this one pinwheel arm of this one galaxy in this one universe experiences it. It does not call into question anyone else’s experience, but simply gives us a medium through which we can relate to Bechdel’s experience and establish human connection. It’s one person’s way of saying, “hey, I survived all this and came out the other side ok. You can survive your fight.” This book doesn’t promote or advocate any behavior, it simply extends the hand of compassion and understanding and invites us to examine the life of another and compare it to our own.

Having read it, I can say with confidence that the issues Bechdel explores are NOT salacious, nor there for the titillation of the reader. The sexual content and exploration is tasteful and appropriate to the story. Her viewpoint is as valid as any other, and belonging to a minority perspective, it is important that others are exposed to it regardless who it makes uncomfortable. Discomfort is a sign of growth, and of challenging your worldview with a new perspective.

It’s also important to remember that we’re all fighting, especially when it comes to the tough stuff like identity, sexuality, or anything other aspect that doesn’t conform neatly to social and cultural “norms.” We all have to figure out what being our own gender “means” to us, and then what it “means” in the grand scheme of our world. Some will struggle with the dissonance between who they are on the outside versus who they are on the inside. And once that’s sorted out, there’s still the whole messy experience of what it means in relation to other people – whether they are the same gender, the opposite gender or maybe even without gender. Then, there’s the question of what sexuality is in relation to those other people and figuring out if one’s own sexual expression means asexuality, or pansexuality, or homosexuality, or plain ol’ heterosexuality. For some, these are easy assimilations because they share their experience with the majority and are considered “normal.” For others, artifice is easier than discovery and authenticity – but artifice doesn’t last long.

To the Duke students that stand on moral objections when refusing to read the book: you are welcome to make that choice and exercise your freedom as you see fit. My advice to you, however, is not to get caught up in the trap of avoiding material that challenges your worldview because it is uncomfortable. Understand that walking away from an opportunity to share another perspective, you isolate yourself from the incredibly diverse experience of life, and you actively avoid making connection with another human being. Instead of seizing the chance to create connection and find common ground (and possibly even helping you understand yourself or your experiences), you’re actively creating division and difference and isolating yourself out of the fear of change. Your morals and values should still be able to withstand exposure to different ideas without corrupting you. The risk you take in finding humanity in another person is worth it. Open your heart and your mind and listen beyond the words. The chord of harmony is easier to hear when you’re not seeking out the dissonance. Don’t sell yourself short – explore and experience the world, even if you choose not to partake of all there is on the buffet.

 

Medium: Dead-tree version from Amazon.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read: Most likely.

Dead-tree worthy?: This is a hard one to call, so I will simply say: YMMV. I think it would depend on the type of e-reader you’re using, or the quality of the digital content. Since I don’t imagine this would translate well to my Kindle (paperwhite), I would say that I’d prefer to have this as a hard copy. Maybe check out the sample on your device and then look over the sample pages online. Then, come back and give your recommendation 🙂

Dun dun…dun dun…

It’s that time of the year. That time people are venturing out into the water, and the irrational lizard brain that lurks in my skull thinks of nothing but that damned movie. The one with the two note villain.

Now, I may have mentioned it before, but I have something close to a phobia when it comes to sharks. Though I lived in NE for much of my young life and knew that these toothsome predators were unlikely (though not impossible) in my ecological neck of the…ocean, I still never had much interest in swimming in the ocean. Frankly, even lakes with fish sometimes freak me out. I’m much more comfortable in pools, and even rivers feel a little less stressful (unless they’re coastal. Bull sharks, after all.) than the open water of the Big Blue. It is one of my goals that when I finish with school (hopefully another year or so) and after a little physical preparation, I’m going to go shark diving off Guadalupe Island and see the Great Whites up close.

Yikes, dude.

Talk about facing your fears head on.

But seriously, I’m going to do it. I believe myself a little more each time I say it, too. So the irrational fear has becomes something of a fascination. Instead of imagining the animatronic Bruce from the movie Jaws, I am just thinking “big predator with big teeth, massive appetite and dangerous curiosity.” The curiosity and big teeth being the problem for most people. If you don’t have hands, the way you feel your way through the world is with your chompers….ouch.

Sooo….. given my love of all things horror, I picked up the audiobook of Jaws by Peter Benchley and thought it appropriate for a summer “read.” What I found most interesting was how the story completely and profoundly changed from in the translation from book to movie. I’ve seen the movie plenty of times to note the differences almost immediately, but in the sake of fairness, before I start talking about them, I’m going to go re-watch the film. Look for an upcoming post about this odd couple – the book and the film, Jaws.

Something Like a Review – World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

Since I’m still awake and I haven’t yet seen this week’s episode of True Blood, I’m calling it Sunday, still. By the time most of you read this, it will be Monday and perhaps pretty susceptible to dreams of the world coming to a resounding end if only to escape Monday morning. I’ll be right there with you, I promise, but for now, I’m still clinging to Sunday and the song that keeps running through my head is this one:

In the third installation of The Last Policeman Books (III), World of Trouble picks up with our hero, Hank Palace 14 days before impact. Maia, also known as 2011GV1, is on her final trajectory with the Earth and Palace is on his final crusade: to find his sister Nico before the world ends.

I won’t go too far into detail, since to provide enough detail to give insight into what’s happening is to spoil the previous books. Suffice to say that Palace is battle born, but determined to find his sister, no matter what it takes. 

While I enjoyed the previous two books in the series, this one was the best of the three and my favorite by far. Perhaps it was the changes in Palace, or in the ambiance of the world knowing it was on the brink of the disaster. Maybe it was the quest he was on; I can’t say for sure what “did it” for me with this book, but I can highlight my favorite part:

…the last page (and a half). The final scene. Not only was it brilliantly fitting for the entire story arc, not only was it the end that the world deserved, it was beautifully, poetically rendered. The first time I read it, I realized that I’d read it way too fast, yet still managed a “wow.” I read it again, slowly this time. I read it a third time, smiled, breathed a sigh and put the book aside.

Happy endings aren’t a prerequisite for a smile, mind you, but fitting ends earn them. This one earned it. To someone picking up the book just to read the last page and a half, it wouldn’t hold the same beauty, but it was something the world had been spiraling towards, and a change that Palace had earned after his trials and struggles.

The previous two books seemed somewhat rushed towards the conclusion, but this one seemed to have a much more fitting pace, as though Winters mastered the arc of the story with the third installation (or perhaps I was just getting used to the genre). In this book, even the heavy part of the arc felt right, felt well-timed, and if not happy – justified by everything that came before, and resolved by everything that came after.

I definitely recommend this one, and would even call it the crowning jewel of the series, the caveat being that without the other books in the series, it won’t have the same impact (the pun was convenient, though not intended. Let’s call it serendipity…).

Medium: Dead-tree version provided for review by Quirk Books

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read: Most likely, even if for just the final scene.

Dead-tree worthy?: This book has made me reconsider whether this series would earn a spot on my shelf. While I may not justify space for all three, I would keep the third one on the shelf with the other two on the Kindle so I can go back through the entire series.

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